Dramafest/Debate Finals/Scholarship Gathering/May

I’m really losing the battle to keep up with writing about everything I want to write about.

Raffles Junior College (I keep wanting to refer to this as RJ the way most of my peers do, but am aware that the world outside Singapore doesn’t converse in acronyms) Dramafest finals last Friday, the now annual pilgrimage (written about last year, and fundamentally the same in terms of group composition and general good feeling) to good food in Ghim Moh hawker centre, bad plays in LT1 and debauched supper in Holland Village. Tragically, the Hainanese chicken rice stall manned by the skinny balding moustachioed man seems to have closed down, but at least there was still Luan Qi Ba Zao (scroll down to NoBlogLove post#2). We suppered in Coffee Club, which was altogether too civilized a place for D’s (names initialized to protect the filthy) very excited shouts about Natalie Portman’s nipples. (Most quotes from the evening are unprintable at best, and potentially libellous at worst.)

Debate finals were on Saturday, where for the second year running I was the youngest and strangest-haired judge on the panel. I don’t think this adversely affected my ability to judge, given that I ended up comfortably in the middle of a majority decision, but it was something I was more than passingly aware of nonetheless. Having to travel to the other side of the island (stop laughing, people from big countries, it’s at least one and a half hours’ journey!) for a scholarship gathering afterwards was a bit of a bitch, but worth the trip in the end – I’m always pleasantly shocked by just how much I actually enjoy the company of these people. Working with them, if it happens, might actually be fun.

Monday’s romantic candlelight dinner with May at Chijmes started auspiciously with our agreed meeting point in the Mango store at Raffles City. Practical given that she was parking there, and also for the fact that if either of us was late, the other wouldn’t have to be bored while waiting. Impractical given that we ended up eating about two hours later than we’d originally planned on due to grappling with important shopping decisions, such as whether the unique colour of trousers was an acceptable tradeoff for their ass-ballooning potential.

Debating Nostalgia

On Saturday I felt old and retrospectively stupid.

The semi-final debates were on the motion This House Believes That The IMF and World Bank Have Done More Harm Than Good. If I had had to take this on, when I was 17, with an hour to prepare, I would have curled up in a fetal position in the corner and cried for my mother. The teams I judged took it on bravely and far more competently than I would have done 5 years ago, and while I was able, in judge mode, to make many criticisms of their efforts, that really doesn’t detract from the fact that they’d have kicked my 17-year-old ass to Washington (is that where the IMF and WB headquarters are?) and back.

The seven-generational Raffles Debaters party (affectionately christened the Gangbang by Jolene) afterwards had the magnificent cacophony you would expect from an event where you put a lot of debaters in a room but don’t actually have rules of debating in place to control all of them. Party games included obscene charades where people had to act out stuff like Octopussy and Dr Strangelove (the guy doing this mimed wanking a very big dick, and someone guessed it just from that. Go figure), Polar Bear (too complicated to explain, but I am told all the young people play it these days) and Dance Dance Revolution.

As I said, old and retrospectively stupid. But in a good way.

Afternoon Of Poetry And Music

Saturday was Rafflesian, the morning spent judging quarter-final debates, the afternoon at the Creative Writing Club’s annual Afternoon of Poetry and Music, which I’ve attended for the past seven years or so.

APM had its usual mixed bag of poetry – some I didn’t get or didn’t like, some that could have been good if their authors hadn’t delivered them so badly, some I wished I was a good enough poet to have written, many I knew I would never be a good enough poet to write. Poems by young strangers and old friends. Lee Tzu Pheng’s beautiful and elegiac Falling Into Timelessness, which I must find and read many times more. Alfian Sa’at’s Autobiography, from that second collection I haven’t read nearly as many times as One Fierce Hour and really should sit down with soon. Musical performances which gave me varying degrees of enjoyment depending on the novelty of their repertoire and the skill of the performers. Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba arranged for saxophone quartet, well worth watching. Ploddingly and badly played Pachelbel’s Canon, a real waste of time.

Crepes (quality good, quantity bad) at Raffles City (continuity unintended) with Terence, Yi-Sheng, Cheryl and Miss Ho. Wandering, talking, coffeeing later on, conversation that can’t really be alluded to because of the reasonably private nature of most of it, but I suppose the main point here is that I went home from the day happy and remembering why, according to the Myers-Briggs test, I am apparently an extrovert.

Being With Debaters

Off the Ayer Rajah Expressway, through Ghim Moh housing estate (slowing down for jaywalking students), round that voluptuous curve in the road and Raffles Junior College peers out at you from behind a rather strangely landscaped and mildly overgrown island thingy in the driveway.

Homecomings thrive on immediate connections, the sort that are still relevant and apparent enough that they don’t have to be explained. So this is never quite a homecoming. It’s an amateur movie of me walking around a place I spent two years of my life, with ghostly commentators drawing arrows and circles on the screen. Here’s where Michelle and her friends would stagger after classes were over for the day. They sat in the tuckshop and drank 30-cent mugs of cool lemon tea, but they called it their “beer garden” for some reason. Sad kids. Here’s where Michelle’s class used to go to pretend to productively use the free period before PE on Fridays, but where they’d inevitably end up giggling helplessly, overcome by what they came to call the Friday madness, until the one-trick-pony librarian would come round and threaten “You can do your talking OUT-SIDE.”

I was there to judge the preliminary rounds of the national debating championships. We counted six “generations” of Rafflesian debaters among the judges alone. There was that wonderfully refreshing feeling that however outspoken or blunt I let myself be, it wasn’t going to intimidate my companions, or discourage them from being equally outspoken and blunt right back. A rare feeling for me in Singapore. My other prime conversational flaw, of assuming I know what someone else is saying before they finish the sentence, and interrupting them because I’m so eager to respond, was equally replicated in most of my companions. And again, the feeling that only here can we do this.

Here, in this smug little circle of articulate, confident, smart arses, we can cautiously lower the self-censorship screens we (or at least I) erect the rest of the time. I forget myself and interrupt you, because I know if I’ve got you wrong, you’ll correct me with the verve and wit that makes these conversations sparkle, not just keep quiet and think dark thoughts about loudmouth Michelle imposing her opinions on the world. We can all talk at each other simultaneously, but we’re all listening too. The faults that everyone else hates in us are the lifeblood of our times together, and it is nice, even if I acknowledge they’re faults to be corrected the rest of the time, to let my guard down every now and then.